Harlot's Ghost
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Harlot's Ghost

3.81 of 5 stars 3.81  ·  rating details  ·  1,196 ratings  ·  129 reviews
A Novel
Paperback, 1191 pages
Published September 1st 1992 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published October 2nd 1991)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,152)
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switterbug (Betsey)
This post-modern novel by Mailer is inarguably the most informed novel of the CIA. This is not callow, veneered, cinema-informed CIA, or any of the "tell-all" non-fiction embellishments of CIA activity. This is a psychological study of the necessary duality of agents, teased from the central soul of the duality of humankind. Mailer has a comprehensive insider's knowledge of the structure and workings of the CIA.

Paradox lives on every layer; the characters in this fiction, other than the main ch...more
Lesley Hazleton
Mailer, check.
Too long, check.
Creaky structure, check.
Weird pseudo-psycho theorizing, check.
Obsession with buggery, check.
Tin ear for female characters, check.
BRILLIANT, check.
Yes, brilliant. Mailer's CIA novel, through to the Bay of Pigs, Cuban missile crisis, and Kennedy assassination. 1200 pages, give or take (who's counting at this length?). No minimalism here. This man knew how to breathe deep, to write expansively, to be outrageous, to give the finger to the so-called distinctions between...more
Roger
There's probably five or six hundred pages of brilliance in this 1300 page monster, but then there's the interminable recounting of daily intelligence minutia, the stinking heaps of bullshit psycho-theory, and the seemingly endless series of repetitive letters between two neurotics who can't get their heads out of their asses. All of which might be worth slogging through for the sake of the good parts, except when I ran out of pages to turn, the story wasn't even remotely resolved. When I read s...more
Michael
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Glen
Oh, I could be angry right now, terribly angry, having just finished an almost 1300-page fictional tome that ends with the words "To Be Continued", but I choose not to be since I chose to hang in there with this book long after I had concluded that it would not reward in ways commensurate with its length. In that I was not mistaken. There is much about this novel of the CIA in the 50s and early 60s to like, and there is no question of Mailer's devotion to his craft and the level of research that...more
Mike
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Ted Burke
This is a generational saga more than anything else, the story of Harry Hubbard and his relationship with his CIA mentor, the titular Harlot. It is, I think, a brilliant mess of a novel, not unlike the projects the Central Intelligence Agency has taken on covertly, unheard of and unspoken, in order to preserve the good graces and virtue of the United States. The main message, I think, is that one cannot fight evil unless they understand exactly what evil is and are willing to be evil , unprincip...more
Chrissie
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Francisco
This book is over 1200 pages long and weighs over eleven pounds. Readers making it to the book's finale will, on page 1,242, find themselves greeted with the phrase "[t]o be continued." Though twenty years have elapsed since the book's publication, no additional installment has -- to my knowledge -- ever been released. It also bears noting that Norman Mailer is, according to several reputable sources close to me, very likely deceased. Given the foregoing, I have no alternative but to conclude th...more
Laura Cowan
It only took me a few pages to realize this was a 5-star book. It's almost 15 pounds in hardcover, so I was kind of hoping I would hate it and could put it down, but from the beginning it was lyrical in its descriptions of nature without waxing purple, a fascinatingly well-told and imaginative story with tremendously good imagery. However, after the first chapter, the story largely gets taken up with the drama of the CIA and leaves the natural world behind. The writing continues to awe, but the...more
Steve
A massive book. Highpoints include postwar Berlin and the events leading up to the Bay of Pigs. A major problem though, is that there are too many low points; too many points when I wondered why I was reading this. The entire period spent on Montevidio, as well as the psychological theory of Alpha and Omega were carried out far too long. Part of the difficulty, I suppose, is that nothing ever really happens to Hubbard. He is merely a device for recording events and does not partake in any of the...more
Linda
A fascinating take on the people who spend their lives in deception and intrigue-the whole CIA Cold War spy story with great characters-Montague alias Harlot , his wife Kittredge and Harry Hubbard her lover and narrator of this tale. This novel is peppered with real names and events and historical facts including Sam Giancana, President Kennedy, Fidel Castro and Herbert Hoover to name some.Having grownup in this period of time and remembering some of the headlines I was just mesmerized and pulle...more
Procyon Lotor
L'uomo senza speCIAlit�! Non � un esplosione. E' un ammortizzatore, un materasso, talvolta un silenziatore. Il libro � la descrizione romanzata ovviamente incompleta ed episodica della CIAificazione della societ� e/o di come soggetti gi� CIAfilizzati trovino naturale impiegarsi presso l'Agenzia. Cio� CIAffiliarsi. http://archiviostorico.corriere.it/19... Alfa e Omega in lotta nella mente blurry dei protagonisti - tutti col loro bravo criptonimo - finch� "Ye shall know the truth, and the truth sh...more
Sheri
I am not sure why I thought it would be a good idea to begin this monster of a book (1200 pages!) right before tech week, but for some reason I did just that. Instead of taking the expected 10-12 days, I’ve been slogging through for 16. I hesitate to blame the novel (because it is good), but I also cannot claim to have quite the attention span that I would normally devote to this (sleep deprivation will do that). On the other hand, our show has turned out better than I expected and (for all of y...more
Arthur Sperry
I am a fan of Mailer's writing, and I consider this to be his masterpiece. There is a lot of psychological complexity to the characters without ever seeming contrived or unrealistic!
Lindsey
I had to DNF this one @ page 322. I hate to do it. I love Norman Mailer. His writing is on point, his characters are well-rounded, the story is meticulously researched. I just can't finish this one. I do not care anything about the CIA or government agencies or spy rings or intrigue. I thought Mailer's writing could carry me through but it doesn't. If you love Bond-type stories or have always been interested in the inner-workings of the CIA you will likely love this novel. If you are ambivalent...more
Patrick
Oh, I give up.
Ken
Norman Mailer's ability to render the minutiae is astonishing. He writes like he's seen and done it all, and for the first two hundred pages I was having enough fun to cancel my plans for the weekend. The book starts with the main character, CIA agent Harry Hubbard, racing back to the titled island cottage of his godfather, CIA bigwig Hugh Montague. The CIA are on the land looking to assassinate Hugh, and Harry is going to rescue Hugh's wife Kittredge, with whom Harry has fallen in love.

It's sau...more
Lobstergirl
Jan 17, 2011 Lobstergirl rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Desirée Rogers
Shelves: own, fiction
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Carol
Reading this book was a thorough-going awful experience. I have questioned my sanity for continuing on with this book even though I thought the writing unartful, pretentious, tedious, and just generally awful. To give an example of Mailer's apparent love affair with WASP-dom, his characters have such names as Kittredge, Herrick, Boardman, etc.----and these are FIRST names. More examples: no character EVER says such commonplace words as "completely" or "totally", but instead the word "wholly" is...more
bobbygw
One of the Big White Daddy of American fiction's panoramic, brick-sized novels, Harlot's Ghost is the story of the CIA from 1955-1963, as lived by one of its operatives, Harry Hubard, in the shadow of other key figures in the agency, especially his father, Cal Hubbard and Hugh Montague, the latter known as Harlot.

Harry is typical of the successful agent, having the elite credentials of the WASP, Ivy League background, working in an organisation that is ultimately self-serving and understandably...more
Myra
Not an easy book to read. At 1282 pages it took me way too long. I'm a slow reader anyway. I read every word rather than groups of words. Don't know why, except that I have always loved reading aloud, because I love the sound and feel of words. I guess maybe I do the same thing when I'm reading to myself.

At any rate, back to Harlot's Ghost. The book covers the period of the late 1950s and early 1960s, and much of it focuses on the CIA involvement in Cuba, and how much the CIA disliked the Kenne...more
Perry Whitford
Aug 12, 2012 Perry Whitford rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: CIA connoisseurs prepared to skip the bullshit.
This is Mailer's take on the CIA story and he includes all the juicy bits, such as the intrigues in post-WW2 Berlin, the Kennedy and Mafia machinations, Cuba, The Beard and the Bay of Pigs disaster. The detail is incredible, the writing as strong as always, so if you have an interest in the shadier dealings of the CIA there is so much to discover here, comprehensive and convincingly done.
There is a family saga here too, which adds further drama and collusion involving affairs, suicides and defe...more
Anna
This novel is wide-ranging story of Cold War CIA activity in which historical facts rest upon a foundation of imagined interpersonal and organizational dynamics. I so enjoyed Mailer's keen insight into human relations (and the subject matter is itself intriguing) that I absolutely couldn't put it down. For instance (on p. 971!), his protagonist observes: "If I had commenced my work in liaison on the assumption that I was a connective principle, a conjunction, so to speak, I had by now decided th...more
Arun K
So what can you say from an erudite and complex 1300 page novel? It better finish everything it can in those 1300 pages, now doesn't it?

But no, it does not. It is possibly the quintessential novel of the last 55 years by an American author.

It is probably one of the best memoirs of a complex organization that is mired in secrecy.

It is probably one of my favorite novels that I have read.

Norman Mailer definitely surprised me. I came upon him after reading "The Gang who couldn't write straight" an...more
Adina
Sep 04, 2007 Adina rated it 1 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: someone with a lot of time on their hands
Shelves: unfinished
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Dan
Jul 10, 2009 Dan rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Dan by: Tom C.
Shelves: novels
A novel about the CIA, from its early years during the Second World War until the early 1960s (Mailer was planning to write about the CIA’s more recent history in a sequel; unfortunately he did not live to do this). In addition to the themes and conventions typical of novels about spies (intelligence, counter-intelligence, moles, code names), Mailer’s emphasis is on the relation between spying and the elite class in America. The novel is long, but it is not as dense as some others (Don DeLillo’s...more
Ginny Pennekamp
Dear Norman Mailer, if you didn't finish this book, why should I?

1310 pages, and yet, no character resolution? Seriously?

Honestly, the first 200 or so pages of this book were amazing. Great writing, great tone, and oh man, he set up the chess board in such a beautiful way that I was like, "YES! I can't wait to figure out how this mess happened! I am so into this book!"

And then... it went on... and on... and we didn't come back to any of those situations or questions... and nothing built... and...more
Graham
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
John
Harry Hubbard, Norman Mailer's second generation CIA operative, is a very interesting character. Some would say that I based my protagonist Hal Schroeder on him.

There are similarities I will admit, but I didn't pick up this 1100 page monster until I had finished the first two books of my American Spy Trilogy.

He's an infuriating writer, Mailer. An indisputable genius who seems to disdain certain literary conventions just for the hell of it. His descriptions of the homestead Hubbard's family call...more
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7927
Norman Kingsley Mailer was an American novelist, journalist, essayist, poet, playwright, screenwriter, and film director.

Along with Truman Capote, Joan Didion, and Tom Wolfe, Mailer is considered an innovator of creative nonfiction, a genre sometimes called New Journalism, but which covers the essay to the nonfiction novel. He was awarded the Pulitzer Prize twice and the National Book Award once....more
More about Norman Mailer...
The Naked and the Dead The Executioner's Song An American Dream The Armies of the Night: History as a Novel, the Novel as History The Fight

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